(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #367 -- 12/17/04
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
He is William Hurwitz, the most prominent advocate, and at one time practitioner of, aggressive treatment for severe chronic pain for patients who suffer from it. I have written about Dr. Hurwitz since 1996, the year the Board of Medicine of Virginia yanked his license, to his patients' detriment, and I have met him on multiple occasions, including the day he received an award from the American Society for Action on Pain for the risks he took.
One of those patients was David Covillion, a former police officer who became disabled from a fight with a suspect. Covillion, like most of Hurwitz's patients, was not able to find another doctor willing to treat him. His pain was so great that he saw no way out but to end his life. He recorded a dramatic videotape the day before, explaining his decision, a tape that was played on Sixty Minutes when they reported on the case.
The media, unfortunately, has not been clear in its more recent reporting on this history. Hurwitz, in fact, was essentially exonerated by the medical board, which restored his license, though not before much damage was done. He was able to return to practicing medicine and treating pain -- until two years ago, when, knowing that the federal investigation was coming, he closed his practice. He wanted to give his patients a chance -- whatever little they had of one -- to find other doctors willing to treat them. Two and a half months after Hurwitz announced his decision, the feds raided his office and home.
It is a simple concept -- one would think -- that patients should get what they need for pain. But the drugs patients need for pain are also among the drugs that drug police make a living hunting down. The enforcement bureaus devoted to that nexus -- anti-diversion bureaus -- must draw blood to justify their existence and expand. The convictions they have now obtained against Dr. Hurwitz -- which will put him in prison for life if the situation goes un-remedied -- are bad news for pain patients. As one advocate told the media on getting the news, doctors are going to "run for the hills" whenever they meet a pain patient from now on. Who can blame them? Life in prison is a steep cost to risk for any cause, even the cause of obeying one's physician's oath.
It is that oath that Hurwitz was following. Frank Fisher, another pain doctor who had (relatively) better luck, has described Dr. Hurwitz as the most ethical of the pain doctors -- the most ethical because he would always treat a pain patient for the pain, absent proof of the patient's misconduct. This included the patients whom other doctors most feared to treat -- the patients with addictions, the poor, those with an unsavory look -- those for whom the risk to the doctor of being fooled and ending up facing a prosecution is the greatest. But as Dr. Hurwitz told the jury when he took the stand, to deny a patient pain treatment is tantamount to torture. If he had proof that patients were diverting the drugs, he would cut them off. But without proof, he was obligated to treat the pain they seemed to have, because to do otherwise would violate medical ethics. Dr. Hurwitz was unwilling to torture his patients by denying them medicine, even though that was what was needed to protect himself from the drug police.
This is the basic issue of the case, the issue that Hurwitz and his lawyers tried to convey to the jury, but there is more to it. Other issues are the misuse of the law by federal prosecutors, the lack of clarity in the law, the sheer length of the federal mandatory minimum sentences, and the willingness of the judge to aid and abet the prosecutors in their successful endeavor to obscure the issue for the jurors. Judge Wexler made a series of bad decisions that will probably constitute the basis for the appeal. Wexler would not instruct the jury clearly, in response to their query, that it is legal to prescribe opiates to people with addictions to them, so long as the prescriptions are for pain control. Wexler did not communicate the "good faith" standard, that doctors who prescribe in good faith are innocent, even if the faith they showed some of their patients turns out to be misplaced. Both of these are errors of law which biased the jury's deliberations toward conviction.
Wexler also disallowed the defense from presenting a document published recently by DEA and pain treatment experts to the jury, because the DEA had withdrawn the document by that time. Would it not have been more in the spirit of truth -- the "whole truth," as the witness oath goes -- to show the jury the document, as well as the DEA's letter explaining their withdrawal of it, as well as the response by DEA's former physician partners which outlined how distorted and dishonest DEA's reasons really were, as well as the evidence that is suggestive that DEA withdrew the document to improve their chances of convicting Hurwitz himself? And there were other errors on Wexler's part.
I don't know whether Judge Wexler was biased or whether he meant well and was merely manipulated into his bad decisions by smart prosecutors. I also don't know whether prosecutors McNulty or Lytle or Rossi meant well but are merely misguided -- truthfully I consider their motives deeply suspect, but that is only a speculation. Regardless, they are all participants in, and perpetrators of, a profoundly destructive attack on the rights and lives of pain patients everywhere. Some of the people reading this editorial are patients who may regard their hopes for relief from pain as having been dealt a blow yesterday in the courthouse. All of us could be in that situation one day and become the victims of McNulty and Lytle and Rossi and Wexler.
But they are also perpetrators of a travesty of justice against an individual -- a lynching, in effect -- of an innocent doctor whose only crime is that he would not torture his patients by denying them the medicine they needed. And that is not what the law is meant to achieve. In 2004 we do not need or want martyrs, but we seem to have them. I am sure Dr. Hurwitz does not want to wait years in prison awaiting his appeal, nor to spend the remainder of his life there if the appeal fails and no other relief is obtained. But if that is what happens, the reason why may at least be some small source of comfort and large source of pride: He would not torture.
Prominent Northern Virginia pain management specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was viewed as a savior by his patients, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to see him, but a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday found him guilty of being a drug dealer. After six weeks of testimony and four days of deliberations, the jury convicted Dr. Hurwitz on 50 counts of a 62-count indictment, acquitted him on nine others, and was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining three counts.
On the orders of presiding Judge Leonard Wexler, the nationally known pain treatment pioneer was immediately hustled off to jail. In the best case -- assuming the verdicts will be overturned on appeal -- Dr. Hurwitz will probably spend between two and three years behind bars. In the worst case, he will die in prison as a convicted drug dealer.
Testimony showed that Dr. Hurwitz had prescribed huge amounts of opioid pain relievers to his patients, some of whom diverted some of them to the black market. But expert defense witnesses testified that while Dr. Hurwitz's prescriptions might appear outlandish to medical novices, in reality they were in line with accepted medical practice in opioid pain treatment.
The case has focused national attention on the increasingly heated dispute between federal law enforcers and pain care advocates over whether aggressive opioid pain treatment is good medicine or criminal drug-dealing. In recent years, dozens of doctors across the country have been subjected to criminal trials for prescribing pain pills, while hundreds more have been taken before state medical boards. The contradiction between the imperatives of pain management and those of drug law enforcement has only heightened this year, as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the federal drug czar, John Walters, unleashed a campaign against prescription drug diversion and abuse.
Hurwitz patients and pain treatment advocates attended the trial and reacted to the verdict with anger and disappointment. "I just feel very sad, very bad for Billy and the Hurwitz family," said Siobhan Reynolds, director of the Pain Relief Network (http://www.painreliefnetwork.org), a leading advocacy group for pain patients and doctors. "It is really frightening to see this whole federal drug apparatus go into high gear to destroy that which it has targeted. To watch what is really a cynical political prosecution being carried out in what used to be our hallowed courts is really distressing," she told DRCNet. "We are so far away from our original ideals. We are letting federal law enforcement regulate medicine through the criminal courts and allowing the opinions of prosecutors to override the medical judgments of highly trained physicians. If this doesn't serve as a wake-up call, then I don't know what does."
Unsurprisingly, US Attorney Paul McNulty, whose office prosecuted the case, had a different take. "This sends a major message to anyone who would use the treatment of pain as a cover for being a drug trafficker," he told reporters after the verdicts were read.
Reynolds agreed that the verdict sent a strong message, but said that message was one that would result in people in chronic pain going untreated. "Any doctor encountering a patient in pain will now run for the hills," she said. "We are already hearing reports of doctors saying they will be more punitive with patients who make them nervous. This is a public health disaster. Twenty years ago, many doctors were afraid to treat patients with AIDS, and the government took steps to ease that fear. In this case, we have the same sort of public health catastrophe, but instead of helping the problem, the government is only exacerbating it."
"No doctor in his right mind would prescribe for chronic pain patients now, knowing that their misuse of the drugs could be tied back to the doctor and he could be accused of being a drug dealer," said attorney Ken Wine, part of Dr. Hurwitz' defense team. "It is as if each prescription he writes is like heroin being sold on the street. There is no middle ground in the law: Either the prescribing is okay or you might as well be selling crack on the street. The only defense doctors traditionally have is the good faith defense, but that did not work here," he told DRCNet.
Much of the most damaging testimony against Dr. Hurwitz came from a group of related patients from Manassas who had been arrested on drug charges and who worked with prosecutors in the effort to win a conviction. Those patients testified that they duped Hurwitz into prescribing large amounts of opioids, then sold them on the black market. While they did not testify that Dr. Hurwitz was a knowing conspirator in their drug trafficking, their cumulative testimony aided prosecutors in portraying him as a doctor who ignored signs of drug abuse among his patients.
If those patients were Dr. Hurwitz' downfall, other patients testified fervently that the physician was the only one who would help them with their chronic pain. They testified that Dr. Hurwitz was a caring and courageous physician who was willing to prescribe what it took to treat them.
But jurors were more interested in the patients who took advantage of Dr. Hurwitz than those he helped. In their first question to the judge after they began deliberations, the jurors asked whether it was illegal to prescribe opioids to people who use illicit drugs. While the answer to that question is yes -- patients with substance abuse problems can be treated for their addiction at the same time they are being treated for pain -- Judge Wexler refused to instruct the jury thus.
"There will be an appeal, and it will be on the jury instructions," said Wine. "The judge basically refused to allow the good faith defense. Under the law, if he practiced medicine with good intentions, the jury could not find him guilty. But the judge limited the jury instructions so severely that it had little choice but to come back with a guilty verdict."
Now, Dr. Hurwitz is a federal prisoner, and more prosecutions of pain management doctors are already in the pipeline. In the battle between the imperatives of the drug war and those of medicine, the drug warriors have prevailed for now. But as Wine noted, "This is just one battle; the war is far from over."
For the Pain Relief Network, the Hurwitz verdict has prompted a call for an immediate moratorium on DEA prosecutions of physicians and a public examination of the Controlled Substances Act. "This is the 21st Century. The Department of Justice is imposing its antiquated notions about opioid pain medicines on the American people. Millions of innocent sick people are suffering horribly," said Reynolds. "This simply has to end."
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has at long last acted on a nearly four-year-old request by an academic researcher to grow marijuana to test it for medical uses -- but only to deny it. In a letter faxed December 10 to University of Massachusetts-Amherst plant biologist Dr. Lyle Craker, who first submitted the request in 2001, the agency denied his request for a license to grow high-quality marijuana, saying that pot produced at a government-contracted facility in Mississippi is sufficient to supply research needs. Approving the application "would not be consistent with the public interest," the DEA said.
But according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org), which was prepared to fund Craker's research grow, and the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), which helped generate congressional support for the project, the Mississippi weed is both low quality and difficult to obtain for medical marijuana research purposes, especially because access is controlled by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), an organization whose mission is researching the dangers of marijuana -- not its possible medical benefits.
What is worse, said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken, is that the DEA denial makes eventual Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of marijuana as a medicine virtually impossible. "Before the FDA allows a product to be put on the market, it wants clinical data to ensure that it is safe and effective and it wants that research to have been done on an identical product," Mirken explained. "The product's sponsor has to provide large amounts of information about its composition, how it was manufactured -- or, this case, grown. By law, NIDA's Mississippi marijuana cannot be prescribed; it's only available for research, not for sale. If the only marijuana you can obtain to do research cannot be made available as the end product, you are at a dead end."
That the DEA would turn down the license request is little surprise given the agency's handling of Dr. Craker's application over the years. He first submitted it in July 2001, but the DEA failed to act at all for more than 18 months, and then only sent agents to U-Mass to attempt to persuade Dr. Craker to withdraw the application. After that came only further inaction, despite a dogged campaign by MAPS and Dr. Craker to get movement, including letters from both Massachusetts senators, John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, supporting the application.
It was not until Craker and MAPS filed suit against the DEA in federal court in June of this year asking that the agency be ordered to explain its foot-dragging that the agency acted at all. Instead of explaining to the federal appeals court in Washington why it had refused to act, the DEA issued the denial last week. According to the DEA, the government-grade Mississippi operation provides researchers with "marijuana of sufficient quantity and quality to meet all their legitimate and authorized research needs in a timely manner."
"There is one key problem in advancing medical marijuana research, and that is the government's monopoly on research marijuana and the ability of the drug czar and the DEA to use that monopoly to restrict research into the medical uses of marijuana," said MAPS executive director Rick Doblin. "FDA and NIDA are not the problem, the drug czar and the DEA are. They have decided that marijuana research is a fundamental threat to their propaganda. They exaggerate the risks in order to sustain a cruel and counterproductive policy and they suppress research that would challenge the propaganda," he told DRCNet.
The DEA also cited the supposed dangers of smoked marijuana in rejecting the application, a position that led MAPS and MPP to accuse the agency of reaching conclusions before the clinical trials were undertaken and ignoring research with vaporized marijuana, not to mention flat-out lying about the state of current marijuana research.
The agency's order said: "Current marijuana research has not progressed to Phase 2 of the clinical trials because current research must use smoked marijuana, which ultimately cannot be the permitted delivery system for any potential marijuana medication due to the deleterious effects and the difficulty in monitoring the efficaciousness."
"The DEA's statement is simply false," said Doblin. "Phase 2 trials of marijuana -- which look at both safety and efficacy -- are underway now at the University of California, as is a study of vaporizer technology, which allows use of inhaled marijuana without smoking. The DEA is saying that we can't ever go to the FDA with marijuana because it has to be smoked, and that is simply not true. It is appalling that the DEA claims further research on medical marijuana is not in the public interest." A MAPS study of vaporizer technology has been stalled for 17 months by the federal government.
"I am disappointed that the DEA seems to have decided that marijuana cannot be a medicine before the research has even taken place," Dr. Craker said. "We intend to appeal this decision and will keep trying to pursue vitally important research on medical uses of marijuana."
For Doblin, there is a silver lining to the cloud. "The rejection of the application is a good thing," he argued. "For more than three years, the DEA tried to do nothing, but with the lawsuit we were able to force them to articulate their reasons for opposing this license. And those reasons are so pathetically weak and illogical that we are on good ground fighting them at the next level, the administrative law judge hearings. Now people will be able to see how the DEA is saying we don't need the research, they will block it. Their options are narrowing and narrowing, and we will ultimately prevail."
Read all about Dr. Craker and MAPS' effort to obtain a DEA license, including the DEA's rejection letter, court filings, and much, much more at the MAPS medical marijuana research facility page, http://www.maps.org/mmj/mmjfacility.html online.
Vice-chair of the British House of Commons' all-parties drugs group, Labor MP Paul Flynn (http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk) has been a tireless campaigner for real drug law reform in Great Britain. Flynn, a pharmacist by trade, has championed medical marijuana bills in parliament, spoken out at rallies championing cannabis legalization, and has been a voice of reason in an often overheated British drug discourse.
In the wake of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Queens Day speech late last month, where he set out a tough new drug bill as part of a "tough on crime" political package designed to ensure his reelection (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/364/blair.shtml), DRCNet checked in with Flynn to get a better sense of current British political realities. This interview was conducted by e-mail last week. In the meantime, however, Flynn has continued to speak out trenchantly -- for example, being widely quoted as ridiculing the British government's effort to suppress a previously open trade in psychedelic mushrooms. The law must have been written "by someone on hallucinogenic drugs," he said.
Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, [email protected], 12/17/04
Gary Webb, the prize-winning former San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter whose series on the "dark alliance" between the CIA and Nicaraguan Contras to import cocaine into the US in the early 1980s ignited a firestorm of controversy, died December 10 an apparent suicide. He was found in his suburban Sacramento home suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. A note accompanied his body, but its contents have not been disclosed.
But it was "Dark Alliance" that both made Webb's name and ruined his career. While links between Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries who helped finance their war through the cocaine traffic and the CIA had been made previously, Webb's investigative series and subsequent book took it to a new level, arguing that the conspiracy between the CIA and the Contras was directly tied to the crack cocaine explosion of the early 1980s in Los Angeles. The series exploded on the national media-scape like a roadside bomb and led to surreal scenes like that in Los Angeles in the fall of 1996 when the head of the CIA was loudly booed and jeered at a crowded public meeting where attendees held his agency responsible for the crack epidemic.
But "Dark Alliance" quickly came under attack from the largest newspapers in the country -- all of which had failed miserably in reporting the connections between the CIA, the Contras, and the cocaine traffic. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times all attacked Webb's conclusions, and his own paper eventually turned on him. Within a few months of publishing "Dark Alliance," the Mercury News stepped back from its conclusions and took Webb off the story. He resigned rather than accept a humiliating transfer to a state politics beat.
While there were errors in some of the particulars in the series and subsequent book, its broad conclusions have withstood the test of time. That the Reagan administration at best turned a blind eye to drug running by its Central American proxy armies is now well-documented and uncontroversial. That some of the cocaine trafficked by the Contras ended up in the hands of pioneering LA crack entrepreneur "Freeway Ricky" Ross is also undeniable.
But Webb suffered as much from the enthusiasm of his supporters as the slings and arrows of his foes. Some readers were all too eager to loudly cry "genocide" and to turn his carefully documented findings into the stuff of conspiracy theories, making it all the easier to discredit Webb for the ravings of his most extreme followers.
Despite having won more than 30 journalism awards in his career, Webb was effectively marginalized as a mainstream journalist after "Dark Alliance." He found work in the California state assembly until he was laid off after the November elections and had taken a new position with a California political publication, the Sacramento News and Review. But even while at the legislature, Webb returned to reporting on aspects of the drug war. In 1999, he penned a report accusing the California Highway Patrol of unofficially condoning racial profiling, but that report, too, was attacked by its targets.
In 2002, Webb attended the DRCNet-sponsored Out from the Shadows drug legalization conference in Mérida, Mexico, where he signaled his continuing interest in reporting on drug issues by participating in the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism and agreeing to for a time take the helm of the organization itself. But that agreement proved to be abortive, and Webb soon returned to California and the state legislature.
"All he ever wanted to do was write," Webb's ex-wife, Susan Bell, told the Mercury News this week. "He never really recovered from it," she said, referring to the "Dark Alliance" controversy.
"The guy had a fierce commitment to justice and truth. He cared deeply about the people who are forgotten, that we try to shove into the dark recesses of our minds and world," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the California attorney general's office who worked with Webb.
On a personal note, I met Gary Webb when he spoke at the Washington, DC, bookstore where I worked as part of his "Dark Alliance" book tour. Even with his mainstream journalism career in tatters, Webb radiated conviction and confidence, along with a keen intellect and a quiet, friendly persona. We had a chance to speak briefly. I encouraged him to continue to seek the truth and expose it to the world. He said he would. And now he is dead by his own hand.
The world can be a tough and lonely place for those who dare to challenge the powers that be. Gary Webb found out the hard way, but he kept on struggling until he could take it no more.
DRCNet executive director David Borden has joined the blogosphere with a new "Prohibition and the Media" web log. The purpose of the blog, which can be accessed at http://stopthedrugwar.org/blog/ online, is to provide daily critiques of mainstream news media reporting on drug issues. Specifically, our Prohibition and the Media blog will deal with situations in which prohibition itself is an integral part of the problem -- drug trade violence, futile drug busts, environmental ravages from the illicit drug trade, public health disasters such as overdoses, etc. -- by pointing out articles that report on the consequences of prohibition but which do not (for the most part) identify them as such. (We're not at this point blogging on the full range of drug war issues as we report on in this newsletter, though perhaps we will in the future.)
Borden's first "practice" entries deal with media reporting on a massive cocaine seizure in Philadelphia; a mass arrest of drug trafficking suspects in Arkansas; a shootout between police and a suspect in Indiana; and a set of meth lab stories from different parts of the country. We are still learning how to use the blog software, and so we have not yet added links to other blogs or web sites or customized the format, but we will be doing so. Also, we are in discussions with other organizations about ways they might participate in this effort as well -- in keeping with our philosophy of coalitions and partnerships -- but that is still a work in progress.
In the meantime, though, the blog is there, and you are invited to participate in the discussion, send a letter-to-the-editor, or just read. We are excited to be able to provide daily updated content on our web site for the first time. And we are excited that this project will in effect increase our range of reporting to include types of articles on which Drug War Chronicle does not typically focus. Again, visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/blog/ to check it out; we look forward to interacting with you there.
Members of a New Mexico congregation will have a psychedelic Christmas for the first time in six years thanks to a December 8 US Supreme Court ruling. The Santa Fe-based US branch of the Brazilian Union of the Vegetable church is in a battle with the federal government over whether it can use an hallucinogenic Amazonian concoction called ayahuasca. The Supreme Court lifted a temporary stay issued two weeks ago to block the church from using its sacrament while it decides whether the Union of the Vegetable can use it permanently.
The church's battle with the government began with a 1999 raid on the church's Santa Fe property where agents seized 30 gallons of ayahuasca tea used in religious ceremonies. Ayahuasca is verboten under the Controlled Substances Act because it contains DMT, the Justice Department argued.
The church, whose US branch is headed by Seagram's Whiskey heir Jeffrey Bronfman, promptly sued in federal court, complaining that the government had violated its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The church's use of ayahuasca was analogous to the use of peyote by members of the Native American Church, which is allowed under federal law, the church retorted.
While the Bush administration contended ayahuasca is illegal and dangerous, Hollander begged to differ. The concoction is not only safe, she said, but for church members it "is sacred and their sacramental use of hoasca connects them to God."
The courts have so far supported the Union of the Vegetable. The church won a preliminary injunction in federal district court barring the government from interfering with its ayahuasca ceremonies, and last year a three-judge panel of the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. The government asked for the full 10th Circuit to review the decision, and two weeks ago asked for and received a temporary stay from Justice Stephen Breyer, which would have blocked the church from conducting its ceremonies. The December 8 decision by the full Supreme Court undid Breyer's stay, thus allowing the church to celebrate the holidays in the manner in chooses. Meanwhile, the 10th Circuit continues to consider the case.
The battle over needle exchange programs (NEPs) continues in New Jersey. After a decade of struggle to legalize the practice, which has repeatedly been shown to reduce the rate of spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drug users, outgoing Gov. James McGreevey bypassed a recalcitrant legislature and okayed the practice by executive order last month (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/360/njneps.shtml).
Late last week, three legislators vowed to go to court to block McGreevey's order. The lawsuit, which will be filed by Sens. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Tom Kean (R-Union) and Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris), will argue that McGreevey exceeded his powers by granting the executive order. McGreevey's order declared that the spread of AIDS via needle-sharing was a "public health emergency," and would allow cities like Atlantic City and Camden to establish NEPs to get clean needles to addicts.
"He overstepped his bounds," Pennacchio told reporters on December 10. The legislators will argue that McGreevey had no right to issue the order without the legislature's approval. Inspired by the efforts of Atlantic City and Camden to enact NEPs to reduce the AIDS rate in their hard-hit communities, a bill to allow NEPs in the state passed the Assembly earlier this year, but died in the Senate.
"The governor in signing that executive order exceeded his authority," said Michael Laffey, the attorney representing the lawmakers. "He usurped the power of the legislature."
Although New Jersey has one of the nation's highest injection-related AIDS infection rates, the legislators scoffed at the notion it constituted an emergency under the state's Disaster Control Act. "It's not an emergency," Pennacchio said. "Cars not being able to get through on the roads, that's an emergency."
Meth may get all the publicity in the Midwest, but marijuana is a dangerous and escalating threat, Iowa's top drug-fighter warned December 10. In comments made for Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program, which aired Sunday, Marvin Van Haaften, director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, was hitting a favorite theme of latter-day pot foes: It's not your father's marijuana.
"Our people in addiction treatment for marijuana is going up," Van Haaften warned. "It is to the point now where I think we have to take a real serious look at marijuana again for its addictive qualities," Van Haaften said. The corn state drug czar added that investigators are regularly seizing weed containing 24% THC and some plants being developed could contain as much as 37% THC.
Either Iowa farmers are applying their agricultural know-how to weed like there's no tomorrow or Van Haaften is talking through his hat. According to the DEA, the average potency of kind bud -- high grade marijuana -- seized in the US was around 12% in 2002, the most recent year for which it has figures.
Parents who grew up in the days of hippiedom smoking commercial Mexican weed may not understand the threat posed by today's kind bud, Van Haaften said, though not in those precise terms. "When I was in the Army in 1963 in Fort Reilly, Kansas, it was at best 2% pure," Van Haaften said. That's what he gets for buying Kansas ditch weed.
Last week, on the first anniversary of Kenneth Walker's death at the hands of a Georgia sheriff's deputy, the Chronicle reported that Walker's killer, Muscogee County Deputy Sheriff David Glisson, had escaped any state criminal charges in the killing after a local grand jury refused to indict him (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/366/nojusticetml.shtml). Now, Walker's family has filed a $100 million wrongful death suit naming Muscogee County, County Sheriff Ralph Johnson, and Deputy Glisson as respondents.
Walker was killed by two shots to the head as he lay on the side of an interstate highway after the vehicle in which he was riding was stopped by cops who thought they were cornering a Florida drug dealer. Walker, 39, a well-respected family man, was neither armed nor carrying drugs. Amidst community outrage over the killing, Sheriff Johnson fired Glisson, but the trigger-happy deputy has so far avoided any criminal charges. Federal charges may yet be laid against him, but that depends on the results of an FBI investigation that is still pending.
Walker's family is not waiting. In the lawsuit filed on the one-year anniversary of Walker's death, Walker's widow Cheryl and their pre-school age daughter allege that Glisson used excessive force and deprived Walker of life and liberty without due process of law. The lawsuit names Sheriff Johnson because, it says, Glisson was following the sheriff's "official policies, procedures, and customs" when he shot Walker. Johnson and Muscogee County are culpable, the lawsuit claims, because of their failure to adequately train Glisson.
The lawsuit, filed in state court, replaces an earlier lawsuit filed in federal court. "We believe that in Superior Court, a true jury of Walker's peers will hear the case," attorney Bill Campbell said, explaining the switch to state court. "Citizens on the jury will only come from Muscogee County and we believe that is a better forum to deal with matters involving the Muscogee County Sheriff's Department," he said, according to an account in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Attorney Willie Gary, who is also representing the Walkers, marked the anniversary of Kenneth Walker's killing as he addressed reporters on the steps of the Government Center in Columbus last Friday. "This is the day Kenneth Walker was executed, shot and killed by a deputy of this county for absolutely no reason that can be justified," Gary said. "While we cannot bring Kenneth back, we can continue the commitment and effort to make sure this young man's life was not in vain."
And make Muscogee County pay out the nose for its murderous deputies.
courtesy NORML News, http://www.norml.org
The district attorney for the city of Anchorage, at the behest of Gov. Frank Murkowski, is requesting a judge to reexamine a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling (Ravin v. State) which determined that the possession of marijuana by adults within the home is a constitutionally protected activity. The request comes three months after the Alaska Supreme Court denied a petition by the state attorney general's office to reconsider a 2003 Court of Appeals ruling upholding the 1975 case.
As a result of the Ravin decision, adults may legally possess up to four ounces of marijuana in the privacy of their own home.
State officials are alleging that marijuana today is more dangerous than it was perceived to be at the time of the Ravin decision, and that these harms are sufficient to override Alaska's constitutional right to privacy. Officials said that they envision the legislature to hold hearings on the issue this spring.
The state appeals courts have acknowledged that they would be "willing to consider Ravin if presented with compelling new evidence that small amounts of marijuana are harmful," according to a report this week in the Anchorage Daily News.
Last week, for the first time in ages, we had trouble finding a worthy corrupt cop story. Not to worry. The drought has broken, and what a deluge it's been, with corrupt cops popping up in Hawaii, New York, and a couple of times in Texas. Without further ado, and in no particular order:
Pearl City, Hawaii, Police Officer Harold Cabbab Jr. was in federal custody last weekend after being busted for possession of more than a pound of crystal meth, the Hawaii Channel reported. The meth bust was part of a larger case against Cabbab, who on secretly recorded tapes was overheard discussing plans to make big money ripping off drug dealers. Ironically, even though the meth Cabbab was busted with was fake -- part of sting against him where the pseudo-meth was left for him to steal -- he still gets the meth possession charge. Cabbab, a former star University of Hawaii basketball player, also confessed to an earlier drug rip-off where he stole 10 pounds of pot from a man while pretending to be on official police business. He remained in jail pending a federal detention hearing Thursday.
New York City Police Officer Jose Gabriel Delvalle, 24, pled guilty to cocaine trafficking in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, Monday, the Associated Press reported. Delvalle and Basilio Aquiles Delvalle, 34, a relative of the officer's, admitted in court that they conspired to buy a kilo of coke in Rhode Island in October and had plans to buy 10 more. Delvalle was armed and carrying his police credentials when he was busted, prosecutors said. The two Delvalles remain in federal detention pending a March 4 sentencing date.
In Central Texas, former McLennan County (Waco) Deputy Constable Kevin Scott Baker was on trial last week on federal charges that he was a marijuana pusher. Baker, 38, is charged with distributing less than 50 kilos of the weed, conspiracy to distribute, and, just for good measure, aiding and abetting marijuana distribution, the Waco Herald-Tribune reported. Baker's extracurricular activities came to light after a police informant -- a crack-using woman who has since died of Hepatitis C -- tipped Department of Public Safety troopers to his operation. The woman, Betty Mahall, taped conversations with Baker in which she asked for some "weed" and Baker replied nervously that she should not speak so openly about drug deals on a cell phone. DPS officers also taped Baker meeting Mahall at a Bellmead motel, where he was arrested after consummating a pot deal with Mahall. Baker says he was set up. The trial continues.
And down in the Rio Grande Valley, a Cameron County, Texas, assistant jail supervisor is under investigation for allegedly providing marijuana to inmates, the Brownsville Herald reported. Orlando Gutierrez, 25, was suspended without pay Tuesday for violating other jail policies while the sheriff's office investigates how inmates at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center scored their weed. A drug-sniffing dog alerted on Gutierrez' vehicle, but no drugs were found. Gutierrez is the guilty party, said Capt. Rumaldo Rodriguez. "We are getting deniability from the officer, but we are working on that," he said.
The legal status of psychedelic mushrooms such as psilocybe cubensis in Great Britain is muddied after a recent wave of arrests of mushroom sellers, the Guardian reported this week. After direction from the Home Office two years ago that the sale of the trippy fungi was within the law if the mushrooms were not "prepared," more than 400 'shroom shops have sprung up like, well, mushrooms in a cow pasture, and, at least according to British popular culture accounts, they have become the drug of choice for young partiers. When the magazine NME described last summer as "the third summer of love," it ascribed the peaceful vibe to massive mushroom ingestion.
courtesy Erowid While two years ago, the Home Office said that mushrooms did not contravene the Misuse of Drugs Act, it has now changed its tune. Now it says: "The Home Office judges that a mushroom that has been cultivated, transported to the marketplace, packaged, weighed and labeled constitutes a product," and is thus subject to the anti-drug law.
The Home Office followed its new interpretation of the law with arrests of mushroom sellers in Birmingham, Canterbury, Folkestone, and Gloucester, among others, the Guardian reported.
That move has drawn the scorn of at least one Member of Parliament, Paul Flynn. (See our interview with Flynn in this issue). "The law on magic mushrooms is madness," Flynn told the Guardian. "It seems to have been written by somebody who was on a hallucinogenic drug. It's crazy: If you pick them, that's legal; if you keep them overnight, that's illegal because they dry out. The effect of magic mushrooms is minor compared with other drugs. There is a market for them and it would be better to allow it to operate. There are plenty of medicinal drugs that cause far more damage than magic mushrooms. But there are no signs of any intelligence in drug policy from the government. When they say the word 'drugs', you can be sure that the word 'tough' won't be far behind."
And the Home Office got another spanking on Tuesday, when a Gloucester court threw out mushroom sales charges against two local men. Arguing that Home Office directives were confusing and contradictory, crown court recorder Claire Miskin said the law was so ambiguous that to put the two men on trial amounted to an "abuse of process." Miskin suggested that parliament clarify the matter with new legislation.
In the meantime, the Guardian reported, mushrooms remain widely available in greater London, where they continue to be sold openly. Home cultivation kits rival I-Pods as the most popular Christmas gift for young adults this year, the newspaper reported.
The world's first program to randomly drug test drivers got underway in the Australian state of Victoria Monday, and it scored its first victim within 15 minutes, according to Australian press reports. Under the experimental program, police can stop motorists at will and force them to submit to a saliva test for cannabis and methamphetamines. Those found with the drugs in their systems will be fined in a scheme parallel to drunk driving punishments. But unlike drunk driving laws, which set a limit above which the driver is presumed to be impaired, the drugged driving campaign punishes drivers for having any amount of the drugs in question in their systems, whether or not impairment is proven.
The fourth driver tested in metropolitan Melbourne, 39-year-old John De Jong, tested positive for both methamphetamines and marijuana and was cited. A positive test result is forwarded to a laboratory for confirmation. If the lab confirms the positive result, De Jong will be fined $228.
De Jong, who claimed he had not smoked pot for more than a month, was not happy, and neither was his attorney. "My client's rights have clearly been violated," said Solicitor Katalin Blond. "He's arrived home from work to find his children and family in tears, having seen his face plastered across the television," she told ABC Radio. De Jong is considering bringing lawsuits for defamation and breach of privacy, she added.
Of 32 drivers randomly tested Monday, De Jong was the only one to return a positive result, Victoria police said. But there will be more. Police said they plan to test 9,000 drivers in the state during the next year. They will target trucking corridors and "areas known for rave parties," a police spokesman told the publication The Age.
According to a report from the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) Monday, smallholder farmers in the southern African nation of Swaziland are ignoring efforts to suppress the marijuana crop because it provides cash income and medicine. Virtually surrounded by the country of South Africa, Swaziland is afflicted by extreme poverty and an AIDS infection rate estimated at 40% for adults, according to UN figures.
While police consistently raid and arrest small pot farmers, they are not making a dent in the trade, IRIN reported. Authorities had resorted to aerial eradication of marijuana, or "dagga" as it is known locally, but gave that up for budgetary reasons in 2002. Since then, manual eradication has been the responsibility of small teams of police officers, who are not making much headway.
"The interdiction of dagga and the eradication of crops continue as government policy, and there are arrests. But it hasn't dented cultivation much in the northern Hhohho region, or really cut into the supply going to the urban areas," a source with the Royal Swaziland Police Force told IRIN.
According to a study by Swaziland's Council on Alcohol, Drug and Tobacco Abuse, 70% of smallholder farmers in the Hhohho region grow marijuana as a cash crop. One Hhohho farmer told IRIN why.
"My father and his father grew dagga here; my son now knows how. We are far from markets, and the trucks from the marketing board are unreliable. The marketing board tells us to grow tomatoes and such for sale, but our harvests can rot in the sun waiting for them," said a farmer near the provincial capital, Pigg's Peak.
Two-thirds of Swazis live in poverty, according to the UN, and many live on rural Swazi Nation Land, where peasants cannot own their farms or find the capital for improvements like irrigation or better seed stock for licit crops. "I can get kicked off my land, and I can never do much, growing maize on our small plot, but I can always find a nook somewhere to grow dagga," a farmer told IRIN.
Dagga isn't just a cash crop, farmers said. They admitted to IRIN to supplying marijuana to the growing number of people suffering from AIDS in the country, a move that has been abetted by AIDS support groups, who say dagga encourages the appetite of AIDS sufferers. "Particularly when you are starting with the anti-retroviral drugs, your body can feel bad and you don't want to eat anything -- that is when people become thin," Eunice Simelane of Swazis for Positive Living told IRIN.
Islamic militants attacked an office of the Russian anti-drug police Tuesday in the volatile Caucasus region, killing four of them and seizing more than 170 pistols and submachine guns, Reuters reported. According to the attackers, the anti-drug cops were actually a "criminal organization" that was peddling dope and getting the locals strung out.
According to postings on a web site for Moslem separatist rebels in Chechnya (http://www.kavkazcenter.com), a militant group called Yarmuk claimed responsibility for the attack. The night-time assault in Nalchik, capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, ended with the attackers executing the captured anti-drug police and burning down their building. "The attackers handcuffed them, took them into the basement of the state drug-control building and shot them there," Interfax news agency quoted a spokeswoman for the region's drugs control department as saying.
"Thanks to the efforts of this criminal organization (the anti-drugs unit), the number of drug addicts... in the Nalchik and Maisk regions of the republic has grown bigger than the average of the Russian Federation," said a Yarmuk statement on the web site. "According to Shariat (Islamic law), illegal production and distribution of drugs is punished by the death penalty."
The attack in Nalchik, along with other recent incidents in the Caucusus, such as the school attack earlier this year, have raised fears that violence linked to the Chechen conflict is spreading throughout the region, Reuters reported. Chechen separatists are known to be heavily influenced by Muslim radicals, known as Wahhabites in Russia. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has branded the entire North Caucasus region a "breeding ground for Wahhabism."
Christopher Hitchens opines
for Slate on "Let the Afghan Poppies Bloom: How the Drug War is Undermining
the War on Terrorism":
Monograph on Hepatitis C
and injection drug use, from the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and
Drug Addiction (EMCDDA):
Make a difference next semester! DRCNet and the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) are seeking motivated and hardworking interns for the Spring 2005 Semester. We are especially looking for people interested in the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign, an active, vigorous, visible effort to repeal a federal law that takes college aid away from students because of drug convictions.
Preference will be given to those able to work 20 hours per week or more, though others will be considered. DRCNet needs interns with good people skills, web design skills, superb writing skills, and a desire to end the war on drugs. Office and/or political experience are a plus. Spring internships begin in the second or third week of January and ideally last through April, but the dates are flexible. Internships are unpaid, but travel stipends are available for those who need them.
Apply today by sending a short cover letter and resume to: [email protected].
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has three paid internship openings, one in the Communications Department, one in the State Policies Department and one in the Federal Policies Department. Visit http://www.mpp.org/internships/ for a comprehensive job description and to review MPP's application guidelines. The application deadline is December 20, 2004.
DrugWarMarket.com, a web site that follows the economy of the drug war, is seeking web sites for affiliations and link exchanges. The site will launch in December.
DrugWarMarket.com is also seeking information on local drug economies -- if you have information on local law enforcement spending in relationship to the drug war, DrugWarMarket.com would like to know about it! Additionally, DrugWarMarket.com is also interested in information on the cost of drugs, including product, weight and price -- be sure to include the location you are writing about in your e-mail.
Contact DrugWarMarket.com at [email protected].
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
December 18, 7:00-10:30pm, Washington, DC, Steve Wishnia reads from his new book The Cannabis Companion, as part of Art and Music for the 2nd American Civil War, benefit for Mayday DC. At Cafe Mawonaj, 624 T St. NW, sliding admission between $5 and $12. Visit http://maydaydc.mahost.org or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
January 13-16, 2005, Pittsburgh, PA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Jerry Cameron speaks to church congregations about Martin Luther King's message and the impact of America's drug prohibition policy on the African American community. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
January 24-April 30, 2005, eastern Pennsylvania, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition cofounder Peter Christ visits civic groups, church congregations and colleges in Lancaster, Scranton, Allentown, Philadelphia and many other locations. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
January 31-February 12, 2005, central and southwestern Ohio, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge Eleanor Schockett visits civic groups, churches and colleges explaining drug policy and offering alternatives. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
February 15-17, 2005, New England, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge James P. Gray speaks at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts on Feb. 16, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut on Feb. 17 during the day, and Brown University on Feb. 17 in the evening. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
March 12-17, 2005, New York, NY, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge James P. Gray addresses civic groups and audiences at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
April 21-23, Tacoma, WA, 15th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, visit http://www.nasen.org for further information or contact NASEN at (253) 272-4857 or [email protected].
April 30, 2005 (date tentative), 11:00am-3:00pm, Washington, DC, "America's in Pain!" 2nd Annual National Pain Rally. At the US Capitol Reflecting Pool, visit http://www.AmericanPainInstitute.org for further information.
April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
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